Author: Techno Antonio Negri
In the course of our discussions with the technomaterialism collective, we realized that it is very difficult to make nightlife actors discuss labor relations and anti-work politics.
I remember arguing with a DJ on social media regarding resuming work during the pandemic, pointing out to them that they could organize to push for financial help from the government instead of playing at German plague raves at the height of the pandemic, the gain being really short-term and putting people in danger. After all, even the neo-liberal federal German government put grants to help the freelance and self-employed in Germany –which includes DJs, right?
But as seen in the “Panic!” research project from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield, only 18.2% of creative workers in music, performing, and visual arts are of working-class origin, showing an over-representation of workers of upper-middle-class backgrounds.
It’s easy to conclude that this over-representation of the upper-middle class is present in electronic music. After all, of the two DJs most vocal about resuming operation during the pandemic, at least in the French scene, one was raised in the Principality of Luxembourg and the other went to one of the most sought-after bilingual high schools in Paris.
As an artist/DJ most of your work is not tangible. You can't invoice looking for references, digging for records, listening to music or working on your set. For those with working-class backgrounds, who are faced with an environment where you are expected to achieve just as much as those with entrenched wealth stability, putting your value solely in billable hours is distressing and catastrophic in terms of self-image.Diedrisch Diedrischen - On (Surplus) Value in Art
Here, unemployment insurance has demonstrated its superiority on the market thanks to its capacity to validate all the work done outside the contract: setting up files, creating companies, wandering, experimenting, reading, activism, voluntary projects, research, meetings, networking, unsuccessful attempts, etc.
The only serious solution that allows for this work to take place for all artists, regardless of privilege, is divesting from compulsory wage labor. This should be on the horizon for all cultural workers and society at large.
The Dogma of Labor
“Detroit’s symbolic and final straw came with Motown’s departure in —there would be no cultural safety net, no solace in the voices of Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. And while the auto industry did its rebuilding and rebounding throughout most of the 1980s, the loss of culture in Detroit has been much harder to remedy. There are no short-term stimulants or federal aid packages that can restore the lost sense of community or the metropolis that once was.’’
Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk - Dan Sicko
A vast current of social criticism from the authors of the Frankfurt School in the 1950s to the philosopher André Gorz in the 1980s approached work from an emancipatory perspective.
But as Helen Hester put it “The German collective Krissis group talk about the labor that goes into the preparation of a delicious meal will never be eradicated, the anti-work leftist André Gorz talked about looking after and decorating a house, cooking a good meal, entertaining guest and so on(...) Placing these things at the center of imagined future social arrangements allows work to resurface in an unacknowledged form for those of us who wish to dispose of our time in ways other than cooking and cleaning.” Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek. After Work: What Is Left?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSHT-HKkk8Q
In the UK, apart from the brief interest that the Labour party took in work-life balance in the mid-2000s, the issue of working time has largely disappeared in favor of employability issues. The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work - David Frayne We can assume in a financialized economy, retaining the workforce serves mainly as a mean for social control. Indeed the media persists in demonizing the "profiteers", the "easy-going", and a work ethic that has become obsolete feeds policies designed to force people to give up their welfare benefits. Groups that were previously exempted from the duty to work, such as single parents or people with disabilities, have been monitored in the same way, so that everyone leaves the welfare system and goes into work.  The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work - David Frayne
Also as pointed out by the late David Graeber, “the discipline of economics itself emerged out of moral philosophy (Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy), and moral philosophy, in turn, was originally a branch of theology. Many economic concepts trace back directly to religious ideas. As a result, arguments about value always have something of a theological tinge. Some originally theological notions about work are so universally accepted that they simply can’t be questioned.”
When employees assessing the social values of their work come to an understanding that the value brought to society by performing it is equal to zero this is the definition of a Bullshit Job, or pointless employment. To illustrate it Graeber exposed the following: “If we all woke up one morning and discovered that not only nurses, garbage collectors, and mechanics, but for that matter, bus drivers, grocery store workers, firefighters, or short-order chefs had been whisked away into another dimension, the results would be equally catastrophic. (...) The same cannot be said of hedge fund managers, political consultants, marketing gurus, lobbyists, corporate lawyers, or people whose job it is to apologize for the fact that the carpenter didn’t come.”
John Maynard Keynes forecasted that by the end of the century, technology would have evolved enough for nations like Great Britain or the United States to have implemented a fifteen-hour workweek. In terms of technology, we are perfectly capable of doing this. Yet it didn't take place. If anything, technology has been used to find methods to make us all work harder. This has required the creation of employment that is essentially meaningless. Numerous individuals spend their entire working lives executing jobs that they secretly feel are unnecessary, especially in Europe and North America. Regarding the recent development regarding the moral panic of A.I. and remote work, this article on Yahoo News about a CEO that increases productivity quota by 50 times the normal production is a … Continue reading
The standard explanation about Keynes's missed utopia is that he didn’t foresee the growth in consumerism. This presents a nice morality tale as Graeber puts it:
“Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the twenties, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.” So why haven’t the working hours decreased? The answer is obviously not economical. It is moral and political. The ruling class recognizes that a happy, productive population with free time poses a deadly threat, the experience of the 60’s being a good example of this.
Furthermore, on this argument Loring Jones exposes the following: “Gil (1981) asserted that societal definitions of work serve the major function of defining the distribution of rights and statuses. Not only does participation in paid employment define access to resources it also serves to sort social services recipients into unworthy and worthy categories based on their capacity to work.” We will explore more of this notion further down this text when talking about the “surplus human population.’’
Productive jobs have been mostly automated, even if you count the industrial workers globally and the masses of factory workers in India and China, as their sheer numbers, are anecdotal especially compared to how much of the percentage of the workforce they used to be, we are left now with the professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers who’ve grown from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment (David Graeber - Bullshit Jobs).
Worker solidarity, where?
How can we explain in the French context the lack of solidarity during the current social movement?
The current lack of organizing is a symptom of the over-representation of cultural workers of upper-middle class backgrounds.As mentioned earlier in the text with The 2018 “Panic!” research project from the universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield … Continue reading
In France, Macron’s government, which failed to win a parliamentary majority at the last election, used a specific constitutional clause to pass a bill without vote increasing the date of retirement for workers to receive a full pension. This bill was opposed by two-thirds of French people but went through anyway and triggered a vote of no confidence that narrowly failed.'The 49.3': How did France's government impose its pension reform? • FRANCE 24 English https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gET8_LGd4Y0 Protests were triggered across the country by this use of Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, this law as been used 11 times by the current government, and 100 times within the controversial 5th republic.https://www.ft.com/content/b78f2a89-1062-4423-a4ba-fb4cdc56c683 It created the ideal climate for organizing between students and workers both in the arts and strategic sectors. But this opportunity fell through after the inter-union of art workers postponed several meetings with workers, with members of the art union pushing back this meeting. Furthermore the collective Malak en lutte, an architect and art school student collective, stated on March 21st this year in an Instagram story, “During a meeting with the administrations of the two schools, we decided to cancel the Meeting with the representatives of the working class, students of cultural schools and art workers.
It seems preferable to us that the school is reserved for students for a short period to emphasize learning through the workshops and maintain a benevolence that we created during the last week.”
This failure to understand what is at stake with the current social movement is a symptom of the overly upper-middle-class representation within culture. After three public meetings with the occupied beaux-art school they concluded that it was not important to create bridges with members of the strategic sector, garbage collectors, oil refinery workers and so on. These are the very sectors that created a real impact in the everyday functioning of French society, their absence and protest leading to very real ramifications. Garbage piling up in the street, the halting of energy supplies, postponing the visit of King Charles III to France and so on.
By not putting every effort to build these bridges with sectors that can put the country to a halt, it shows not only a lack of political strategy at the most basic level but it also shows a lack of understanding of what is at stake in the long term. Without the strengthening of these bonds the current government will get its way in accelerating France’s transformation towards a total neo-liberal dystopia, destroying what is left of the French welfare system, demobilizing activists and heavily impacting students from working-class backgrounds.In the last quarter of 2022 the unemployment rate in France was 7,2% in France, the unemployment rate for art student is 17%; those government numbers have to be taken with a pinch of salt as they … Continue reading
In a video during a public meeting that created a lot of tension with mainly the organizer of the fine art school of Paris’ occupation (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts),author Sandra Lucbert stated the following:https://twitter.com/ReseauGrevGe/status/1641406225614008325
- From the french mai (1968) we remember the stones throwing, the general strike but also all the slogans from the Beaux-Art student that they helped to build what is now part of french culture. It’s striking to see how absent in terms of discursive production the cultural sector is right now.A seven-week period of civil unrest in France began in May 1968 and was marked by demonstrations, general strikes, and the takeover of workplaces and institutions. The French economy collapsed at the … Continue reading
- We are letting the neo-liberal hegemony guide the discourse without any counter-argument when the cultural sector is supposed to produce discourse.
- We aren’t spreading the call for the general strike, while it should be our role.
- We need to counter attack against the media smearing campaign against the movement.
Lucbert is clearly anchored in a Gramscian reading of culture,Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist … Continue reading it was really interesting to see on social media people answering things like ' ‘we were occupying the Louvre’’ or ‘ we did an action before a live show’’ and so on, obviously missing the point.
First the cultural sector in France can’t produce a discursive counter-narrative because it doesn’t even get the necessity of it due to a political void filled with permissive neo-liberal hegemony.
Second, the class interests of the cultural sector aren't aligned with that of the worker in the strategic sector and the precarious, hence why the junction seems to be so hard not going further than a few students being present at the picket line.
Art students and cultural workers need to become bourgeois class traitors.Peter Kropotkin - From Prince to Rebel Members of the proletariat who are in those institutions with a scholarship need to realize that they do not share the same class interest as most of their peers, they must distance themselves in order to bring the antagonism required to bring the societal change needed.
“Outside the autonomous existence of the high school kids, opportunities were few for the rest of Detroit. The city hid behind a layer of dormant tension and apathy, with its cultural, economic, and social biorhythms all in ebb. This strange condition plagued Detroit’s creative community throughout the decade, forcing the techno movement to linger at a grassroots level.” Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk - Dan Sicko
In the UK, people turn to alcohol, tobacco and nightlife no matter the economical condition, research by REKOM UK about the nightclub sector during the 1991 and 2008 recessions concluded “they were relatively unaffected by the bleak economic context.
But the U.K the usually “recession proof” night-life sector took a toll with the recent economic downturn, as Patrick Hinton stated in a piece on the “Cost of Living Crisis” for Mixmag,British media seems to call corporations increasing their profit margin “the cost of living crisis” … Continue reading “Contemporary evidence on clubbing habits paints an alarming picture. Research published in April 2023 by REKOM UK, which is the UK’s largest nightclub operator, found “over three quarters (77.3%) of Brits say that the cost of living crisis has cut down the number of times they go on a late night out” Also a report from 2021 highlight that one in three music industry jobs had been lost during the pandemic.https://mixmag.net/feature/how-cost-of-living-crisis-impacting-djs-producers-musicians-dance-music-nightlife-impact-investigation
The nightlife sectors going through a crisis and not being as profitable as in the past is impacting club workers and DJs. Mathys Rennela reminds us of it in his piece, Abolish DJ Idolatry “as Menger points out in The Economics of Creativity: the reality to take into account is the one of the contracts, projects and individual engagements. In this context, a DJ’s success is inherently tied to its ability to foster and maintain deep professional networks within the dance music industry, to ensure a steady and regular project-based income.” https://technomaterialism.com/abolish-dj-idolatry
Gigs being the main source of income for performers within the political context of reactionary government across the globe makes it harder for artists to perform abroad.The impact of passport discrimination and racialised migration policies on artist mobility by Hanna Keil Pronouns: She/Her - Sie/Ihr (DE) … Continue reading Combined with fewer attendants at parties, creates a really dangerous situation for the scene where only artists of the upper-middle-class can participate in the culture.
“(..) separate the poor into categories of who is and isn’t a worker, analogous to who is and isn’t worthy of membership in the body politic.
On this early foundation the justification for modern practices like means testing or disenrolling beneficiaries as part of a never-endingwar against “waste, fraud, and abuse” is built and legitimized. Conjured through warnings of an ever-growing parasitic plague of social dependency, this is the same cultural imaginary that historically drove the nationalistic fervor (and generous private funding from wealthy American businessmen) behind the eugenics movement’s campaign to globally exterminate the “human surplus.” Beatrice Adler-Bolton. “Health Communism
The unemployed and the retired do not receive the deferment of their contributions but the continuation of their salary, for a time only for the former, until death for the latter.
Unfortunately, this conquest is under threat now more than ever. Since the beginning of the 1990s, structural reforms have been working to unravel the right to salary outside of employment, either by tightening the criteria for access to the schemes, or by taxing their financing to the detriment of contributions.
However, in Ireland an ongoing experimentation which started in 2022 and will stop in 2025 called, ‘The new Basic Income for the Arts (BIA)’, this pilot scheme aims to support the arts and creative practice by giving a payment of €325 a week to artists and creative arts workers.
An issue with this is that the sum is way too low, elitist and reserved to the art sector. Why should only artists who responded to arbitrary criteria be the only ones enjoying it? Support for the arts is done through cheap housing and low cost of living which are criteria most countries in the west fail, but Ireland in particular.https://www.newstalk.com/news/almost-half-young-irish-adults-living-home-parents-970012 It’s interesting to see the hypocrisy of neo-liberal governments while attempting to make us fight each other for scraps.
We should advance the ideas of universal basic income for all, so everyone is divorced from the rules of the market and can occupy themselves as they see fit, volunteering, working part-time and so on.
A visual artist can refuse to exhibit in a corporate foundation whose parent company practices tax evasion, social dumping and trade in polluting products. If compensated, a novelist will be able to try other forms of writing and advance their practice. Indemnified, an artist and director will be able to multiply the number of hours of controlled work, to implement complex projects and to produce ambitious installations without having to apply for creative aid.Notre condition: essai sur le salaire au travail artistique - Aurélien Catin
Aurélien Catin, author and activist for economic rights, suggests in the book “Notre condition” :
1. The implementation of a very low affiliation threshold.
2. The non-limitation in time of the indemnities.
3. The creation of a professional commission, inspired by the one of the social security system for artists-authors
I am going further than these suggestions, which are for me of limited strategic interest. If we want to see any of those things implemented, we must obviously organize ourselves as a sector to get out of our dependence on the market via the continued salary, but it can't be limited to just the cultural sector. It must be generalized for all workers, job-seekers or people who have never worked or will never work for various reasons.
Last but not least, here is a non-exhaustive list of concrete actions you can take, depending on your strong points and weak points. As mentioned above it’s important to participate in the worker struggle and bring the question of the surplus to the agenda.
Fighting against the hegemony of reactionary ideas in culture on multiple levels can also be an example of concrete action: we can think of initiatives like pushing back against ideas that normalize compulsory labor or going behind initiatives like “Make noise - Smash Fascism” against the infiltration of the far right in the noise scene in Finland or the Antifascist Music Alliance in Berlin.
Cultural workers can organize and launch solidarity events to raise funds for the cultural worker. That’s what the collective “Planète Boum Boum”,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tph7Z_ypxgk affiliated with the political association Alternatiba, is doing right now in France. Also, initiatives like “Caisse de Rave” https://www.instagram.com/caissederave/ are getting launched by cultural actors which are a series of soliparties to help the strikes across the country.
Also, if you get a large budget from an institution for a residency, a performance, or an exhibition - share the resources, invite others, or redistribute funds to mutual aids. In addition, we can think of expanding non-institutional practices through diverting funds, sharing funds and collective organization to build militant and artistic practices outside of institutions. We Know What Remains Unsaid - Wages for Wages Against
We’ve seen that the way we think about work comes from several ideological standpoints which can be explained by the over-representation of the upper-middle class in a determined sector - in our case dance music. The dogma of labor described here is a political force that goes beyond rationality and rather comes from moral philosophy and theology.
This allows the reliance on a worker/surplus binary as a means of sorting the deserving from the undeserving, establishing a concrete historical record offering de jure justification for organized state abandonment.Beatrice Adler-Bolton. “Health Communism”
I want to stress again that we need to have people willing to sacrifice their ability to be part of the capitalist upper class for the sake of the oppressed, even if it hurts their status in the process. Upper-class artists have to work against their class interest to be in solidarity with the working class.
The cultural hegemony of austerity is justified by the widespread notion that gigs have to be almost the only channel of revenue for performers in dance music and in the cultural landscape at large. It also justifies those kafkaian artists' statuses. As Aurelien Catin highlights it In the performing arts, the majority of workers have benefited from a presumption of salaried status since 1969. It should be the first priority of the cultural sector to produce a counter-narrative against the dogma of labor – not only for themselves, as we saw the market doesn’t even validate half of their work – but to help build society on solidarity, and not on eugenics.
|↑1||Diedrisch Diedrischen - On (Surplus) Value in Art|
|↑2||Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek. After Work: What Is Left?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSHT-HKkk8Q|
|↑3, ↑4||The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work - David Frayne|
|↑5||Regarding the recent development regarding the moral panic of A.I. and remote work, this article on Yahoo News about a CEO that increases productivity quota by 50 times the normal production is a good illustration. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/ceo-worried-remote-workers-using-174658960.html|
|↑6||As mentioned earlier in the text with The 2018 “Panic!” research project from the universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield https://technomaterialism.com/late-payments-as-a-systemic-issue-in-the-cultural-industry|
|↑7||'The 49.3': How did France's government impose its pension reform? • FRANCE 24 English https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gET8_LGd4Y0|
|↑9||In the last quarter of 2022 the unemployment rate in France was 7,2% in France, the unemployment rate for art student is 17%; those government numbers have to be taken with a pinch of salt as they highly underestimate the reality, especially with the pressure of self-entrepreneurship, forced radiation from the unemployment office, multiplication of very short contracts, etc..|
|↑11||A seven-week period of civil unrest in France began in May 1968 and was marked by demonstrations, general strikes, and the takeover of workplaces and institutions. The French economy collapsed at the height of the events that have come to be known as May 68 (French: Mai 68).|
|↑12||Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies.|
|↑13||Peter Kropotkin - From Prince to Rebel|
|↑14||British media seems to call corporations increasing their profit margin “the cost of living crisis” (https://www.lemonde.fr/en/economy/article/2023/03/21/firms-fuel-inflation-by-increasing-their-profit-margins_6020108_19.html)|
|↑17||The impact of passport discrimination and racialised migration policies on artist mobility by Hanna Keil Pronouns: She/Her - Sie/Ihr (DE) https://jeanhugueskabuiku.substack.com/p/the-impact-of-passport-discrimination|
|↑19||Notre condition: essai sur le salaire au travail artistique - Aurélien Catin|
|↑22||We Know What Remains Unsaid - Wages for Wages Against|
|↑23||Beatrice Adler-Bolton. “Health Communism”|